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B.C. has gained 708 family doctors over the last year. Here's where they're working

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Last week, B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix announced that 708 more doctors are practising longitudinal family medicine in the province this year than last year.

This week, his office shared statistics on where those net new family doctors are plying their trade.

Of the 708, the largest portion – 211 – are practising in the Vancouver Coastal Health region. Island Health saw the next-largest net gain, with 179 more family doctors this year than last.

Totals grew by 138 in Interior Health and 132 in Fraser Health, while Northern Health saw a net increase of 35 family doctors.

The remaining 13 of the 708 are classified in the Health Ministry's statistics as coming from an "unknown health authority." Asked for clarification of what this means, the ministry said in an email to CTV News that these family doctors have service contracts with the province that see them fly in and out of remote communities, primarily in the Northern Health region.

'A triumphant thing'

During his announcement last week, Dix attributed the increase in physicians practising family medicine to the province's new payment model, which took effect last year. 

"I think that is a success that is not only significant in terms of doctors choosing the new model … but doctors choosing to practice family medicine in the community," he said.

Earlier this week, B.C. Family Doctors president Dr. Tahmeena Ali told CTV Morning Live the transition away from a fee-for-service model has helped retain family doctors and attract new ones, calling the effects of the change "a triumphant thing." 

The statistics the ministry shared Friday, however, suggest this triumph is not being felt equally across the province's five health regions.

Fraser Health sees least growth

Of note, despite being far and away the largest health authority by population, Fraser Health has seen the second-smallest gain in family doctors in terms of raw numbers.

As a percentage of the existing workforce, Fraser Health's gain is dead last. The health authority added 132 doctors to its 2022-23 total of 1,308, for a 2023-24 total of 1,440, according to the ministry's statistics.

That's an increase of 10 per cent, and certainly cause for celebration in a province where, as of 2022, nearly a million people were without a family doctor. 

In his update last week, Dix acknowledged there were roughly 220,000 people in B.C. who had requested a family doctor and still don't have one.

Statistically speaking, a significant number of those live in Fraser Health, which is home to more than 2.1 million people, according to provincial population estimates.

While Fraser Health saw a 10-per-cent increase in its total number of family physicians, neighbouring Vancouver Coastal Health – which has about 800,000 fewer residents – saw its total increase by 17.9 per cent, from 1,179 to 1,390.

All of the other health authorities have even smaller populations, but each one has seen a larger percentage increase in net new family doctors than Fraser Health.

In Northern Health, the increase was 14.2 per cent. If the fly-in doctors categories as serving an "unknown health authority" are included, then the region has 19.5 per cent more family doctors than it did a year ago.

In Interior Health, the number of family doctors grew by 18 per cent, and in Island Health it grew by 23 per cent.

Per capita figures

The end result is a significant disparity between Fraser Health and B.C.'s other health authorities when looking at the number of family doctors per capita.

Using the Health Ministry's figures for family physicians and the province's 2024 population estimates for each health authority, CTV News calculated that there are 66.3 family doctors per 100,000 residents in Fraser Health. That's the lowest total in the province.

In Vancouver Coastal Health, there are 104.7 per 100,000, which is the highest ratio province-wide.

Interior Health and Island Health also have more than 100 family doctors per 100,000 residents, at 100.9 and 101.7, respectively, while Northern Health has 89.8 per 100,000, not including the fly-in doctors.

This disparity between Fraser Health and the rest of the province – particularly Vancouver Coastal Health – mirrors those seen in other aspects of health care.

For example, a 2023 report by the Surrey Board of Trade on that city's hospital needs noted that Fraser Health received $2,229 per person in provincial health-care spending in 2020-21. Vancouver Coastal Health received $3,033 per person that year.  

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